BELIEF GENE DISCUSSIONS
BELIEF GENE DISCUSSIONS
“If the universe were as simple as we could understand, it would indicate that we were too stupid to understand the universe.”
The person mentioned in this title is Dr. Francis Collins, one of the two scientists that were in charge of the famous genome project eight years ago. Speaking to the English newspaper the Times about his book “The Language of God,” he said, “I believe in miracles and angels; I felt the presence of God while working in the laboratory. There is definitely a force greater than ourselves, and I believe in that. Deciphering DNA drew me a little closer to God. I saw people wracked by disease. However, I saw them miraculously restored to health. That is the work of God.” Fifty-six year-old Dr. Collins had made history with his colleague Craig by their work of decoding DNA (Decoding the Book of Life). The scientific information he obtained as a result of DNA studies when he was an atheist for thirty years showed that the result needed to be interpreted in the best way.
Although the modernism of the twentieth century uttered the thesis “We do not need God” with the effect of science loudly, religions continued their effects worldwide. The thesis “People believe in God in order to find answers to the unknown”, which is thought to be used as a reason of believing, weakened day by day as a result of scientific developments instead of strengthening. To find answers to the unknown made both humanity and scientists approach God. Publication of the book “The God Gene, How Faith is Hardwired into Our Genes” by Dean Hamer, American behavioral geneticist, increased the scientific discussions regarding the issue.
Hamer said that a certain chemical based change behind the gene was directly connected with man’s ability of transcendality. His following phrases in the sentences included in the spirituality criterion test he prepared in 1998 were remarkable: “I feel so connected to people around me that I will never experience separation.” It was determined that there was a variant of VMAT2 gene, which was responsible for the circulation of protein molecules in the brain in the genes of the people with high scores in spirituality test. This gene was also related to the state of consciousness; it was responsible for delirium caused by LSD. To give this genetic element that arranges the complicated dance of the proteins and that was responsible for spirituality the name “God gene” is not scientific but it can be regarded as appropriate to name it the “Gene of Seeking God” because it has a property that leads man to seek the Creator.
In their researches studying religious interests and spiritual experiences, evolutionist psychologists and biologists found it significant that these genes were distinctively similar in identical twins. In his studies on twins in 1980’s, Thomas Bouchard argued that the tendency of being religious was in our genes but that being affected culturally formed different religious structures.
This information shows us the following: Man is inclined to form religious structure genetically but his form of religiousness is determined by by the culture group in which he was born and to which he feels to belong. At this level, it is necessary to state that belief in spirituality has positive aspects in terms of evolution, too; otherwise, it is necessary to defend scientifically that it would have already disappeared.
Believing in a transcendental reality and religious movements’ maintaining their importance should be thought of an effective factor in the struggle of survival. The belief in the Creator promises the most important individual consolation related to the fact that everybody will die one day. Ethical standards formed by the belief in the Creator increases the capacity of people to cope with difficulties. Since this belief brings along the reality of afterdeath and the idea of belief in the eternity, it gives a person both consolation and security, and meaning. This knowledge strengthens communities and makes evolutional contribution to the future of humanity.
That scientific studies relating to belief in God are dealt with in researches in famous institutes and that their results are published in prestigious science periodicals make what has been said up to now convincing. However, the scientific studies should to be designed well and the ethical standards should be determined in the best way. For instance, questions like what the relationship between the feeling of spiritual reality formed by chemicals and beliefs is or what the role of a person’s expectations on beliefs is should definitely be asked in order to understand the scientific aspect of belief.
The researches made in recent years have shown that the placebo effect, which is also known by people as fake medicine effect, has a biological basis. The researchers have shown that a patient’s belief that the medicine he takes will be useful, a doctor’s reliance on that medicine and even big red pills becoming more effective than small white pills are based on biological bases.
Moreover, it is known that the states that are defined as “belief effect” have expectation effects about worldly affairs. Researchers estimate that if a person logically believes that his belief is real, it will strengthen the placebo effect. When it is mentioned that drugs almost affect spirit, it is emphasized that logical thought should not be ignored.
A person who thinks positively about God and who believes in a sublime being and surrenders to the phenomenon of destiny when he feels hopeless recovers from illnesses faster because he makes positive inferences. On the other hand, religion psychologist Sebastian Murkel states that those who have a belief of a retributive God experience more fear and depression in hospitals. That is, religion helps only those who believe that it will help. This shows that the placebo effect has more positive effects on people who have a correct belief of God.
Brain research shows how belief works in the brain but it cannot answer questions like “Where are we coming from? Where are we going? What is the purpose of life?” In May 2005 issue of the Focus periodical, the interpretations of psychiatry expert Lindon Eaves of Virginia University were published; he wrote the following: “It may be true that the concept God can take form in the brain but why does that concept form and how can we explain the chemicals that become active in the brain when a wish to believe arises? I think the answer to these questions lie in the power of God.”
Regarding the religious dimension of the discussions about the belief gene in the world of science, Presidency of Religious Affairs in Turkey made a comment. Religious scholars gave the following answer to questions like, “Is there a belief gene? If there is and if it is something inborn, can people who do not have this gene be regarded as sinners?”: “In a hadith of Hz. Muhammad (Muslim, Qadar, 22), it is stated that everybody is born with the nature of Islam and that the parents and the people around him makes him believe in other religions. Besides, it is stated in the chapter of ash-Shams (91/8) that man has a tendency to distinguish between the good and the bad.”
That is, the tendency to believe in the Creator is closely connected with the genetic coding that determines the state of distinguishing between the good and the bad. These genes, which we can name as metacognition, that is, high mental function genes, lead man to learn the unknown, to search innovations, to choose the good, the right and the beautiful, to find the meaning of life, curiosity that encourages learning, to perceive death and to have a free will.
To decode the biological cyphers of the partial free will given by the Creator to human beings is an important and significant state in terms of understanding His power and attributes.
The Quranic teaching, which defines spirit as a command, states that words and thoughts date back to the beginning.
Everybody potentially has the capacity that covers the perceptions, purposes, beliefs, intentions and expectations of others, that determines and represents special mental states and that realizes mind reading. The neuron cells that perceive the strong feelings of the person facing us work like the Internet. Neuron circuits of man, which copy and imitate people’s perceptional states, perceive the attitudes, tones of voice and movements very fast and become synchronized with them. The coordination of feelings between two people are realized by these psychological units.
Mind Reading Theories are mental states that the brain uses and resorts to when it anticipates and explains an action.
Mind Reading Theories are divided into two: the first one is the theory-theory (TT), which is based on daily life practices. It is based on theoretical reasoning and includes causal rules that are not expressed verbally. In addition, the knowledge that is regarded as unobservable theoretical claims is used as a starting point; it is just like a physicist making use of electrons to explain an observed phenomenon. In this theory, the perceptions, desires, beliefs and decisions that cover inner states are associated with behaviors. Before learning to talk, read and write, children perceive desires, decisions and preferences. Then, they reflect what they learn in their behaviors. In the hypothesis of mind reading that depends on the theory-theory, inference and future estimation related to the assumed aim are in question.
The second hypothesis in the formation of mental algorithm is simulation based on imitation.
In the simulation theory, there exists the principle of establishing resemblance based on the desires, motives, beliefs and preferences of the other party. While in the first method, which is called the theory-theory, a person makes a decision more impartially, in the hypothesis of mental reading through imitation, there is no inference. It is seen that simulation is an easy method from this point of view.
The concept of synesthesia attracted attention for the first time by Richard Cytowic’s book called “The Man Who Tasted Shapes” (1993). Synesthesia can also be defined as combined feelings. The first defined phenomenon related to synesthesia is John Locke’s perception of bugle call as red. Synesthesic people often experience rare things like the disorder of memory of the feeling of having experienced something before called “déja vu” or often dream incidents that will happen in the future.
Along with synesthesic individuals, the existence of synesthesic families is also known. For instance, there were incidents that were recorded like the following: there was a man who perceived letters as colors and his son had the same characteristic. The people who have characteristics like that since their childhood are thought to have magical abilities. The childhood periods of people like that are full of oddities in the form of development disorder that evoke autistic characteristics. These findings show that synesthesia is genetic based (Tarlacı 2007).
Synesthesia is explained by the brain cell development and the properties of neuron circuits; the brain reveals imaginary experiences by making synesthesic perception through some stimulants like LSD. Pharmacological synesthesia is important because it shows the biological foundation. Synesthesic states can take place during the epileptic seizure without any external output – outside the desire of a person and taking drugs. The stimulation of neuron circuits can take place both through imagination and during the epileptic seizure. However, in conceptual synesthesia, concepts are mixed up.
Discussions about synesthesia make scientists ask the question, “What is reality?” Quantum physicists also examine to what extent what we perceive is true.
Apart from being a literature man, Goethe had another property that was not known. He was a synesthesic. He gave great importance to perceiving realities. He even criticized Newton by saying, “Two things are necessary two make a breakthrough: A good mind and a great inheritance… I inherited the mistake of Newton’s teaching.” He said that Newtonian physics could not explain realities and that the truth would appear when the unknown functions of the brain were explained. He wrote a book called Theory of Colours in 1810. Goethe said that visual illusions were neurological realities. These quests represented the extension of the renaissance in Europe and they were the first signals that the reductive materialist view that stepped in with Newtonian physics was changing.
Before the Middle Age, everything was tried to be explained by the view of spiritual reductionism. With Newton, materialistic reductionism became dominant in the world. Today, the evaluation of two realities with “holistic” approach is uniting. According to the holistic approach, everything is related to another thing and they are interconnected. The scientific principles that form as a result of observations support this view.
One of the remarkable studies that we can call the discovery of genetic variants was the “novelty-seeking gene”. In 1996, psychologist Richard Ebstein of Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem and colleagues determined that there distinctive differences in the receptors of neuron cells that responded to dopamine in the people with high novelty-seeking scores.
In 2006, neuroscientist Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg and his colleagues in the famous research institute NIMH in the USA made a research on people who had a gene version related to violence. According to this research, it was seen that the volume in the brain regions that directed excitement in the people in whom this gene was dominant decreased. When those people looked at faces that expressed rage and fear, a high activity took place in the region of amygdala. Repressed activity was determined in the brain region that was related to fear.
A similar research was made by NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) in 2007. The specialists who researched the relationship between dopamine D4 gene variant and attention deficit examined 105 hyperactive children and 103 healthy children; they found out that there was tissue thinning in the front part of the brain of children with gene variant.
Emotional mood disorders originating from the serotonin signaling in the brain are definitely known today. Scientists identified a gene that produces “serotonin transporter protein” that takes an active part in serotonin signaling. Klaus-Peter Lesch and NIMH staff had mentioned two forms of the gene that produces serotonin transporter protein. According to the research made in 1996, the neuron cell that had long gene form produced more serotonin transporter proteins. Those who had a short gene had high anxiety. Ahmad Hariri and colleagues from NIMH made functioned MR brain screening in 2002. This study showed that the amygdala region that was related to worry and anxiety of the 14 people that had short gene forms worked more actively than that of other people.
The obsession gene in the brain is mentioned to be related to “rumination”, which is expressed as mental cud chewing and describes thought repetitions. It is known that the genetic variant increases the risk of depression in the states of bad luck, failure and hopelessness.
It has been proved that those who have long genes are protected better against depression when excessively negative experiences are in question. Psychiatrist and genetic scientist Kendler of Virginia Commonwealth University confirmed the connection between stressful life experiences like divorce, losing one’s job, theft, disease, etc. and the formation of depression in his research on 549 twins. This research showed that the people who had two short forms of the gene that produced serotonin transporter protein were more inclined to go into depression that those who had long genes.
In another research, the state of inclination to the thought repetition of remaining defenseless in the face of unlucky incidents of life was examined and it was determined that those who have short serotonin transporter protein gene were more likely to be obsessed with things. When stress exists together with lack of serotonin transporter protein, the risk of depression increases. (Canlı, 2008).
When stressed swimming test is applied to genetically modified mice, they were observed to remain more inactive than normal mice. This showed that there was a relationship of causality between difficulty in overcoming fear and genes.
With the support of “Human HapMap Project”, which examines genetic variations, and “Genome Project”, which reveals genetic code, the relationship between our genetic profile and temperament, character and behaviors will be understood better. While the genetic molecules clear the way for medicine, it will continue to be an area of interest for psychologists.
Dr. Stephen Suomi of National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Maryland, USA, states that “bad behavior” gene decreases serotonin in the brain. Bad behavior gene is activated through emotional neglect and childhood traumas. The negative effects of the gene are eliminated through maternal love, confidence and adoption. Researches reveal that when mothers educate their children, they make some changes in the operation of their brains; it is important that mothers know it.